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The Flesh and the Spirit – Part 2

September 8, 2009

Romans 8:13For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

The truth about sin and its horrible consequences seems completely hopeless and overwhelming.   But God (two of the sweetest words in all of Scripture), being rich in mercy demonstrated His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Eph. 2:4-5; Rom. 5:8, 8:1).   Christ died the death that we deserved, and by enduring the wrath of God he put to death the deeds of our bodies.  The righteous suffered for the unrighteous.  Through living the life that we could never live and dying the death we should have died, Christ forever freed us from the tyranny of the flesh.  As a result, He has sent the Holy Spirit to come and take up residence within us (Ez. 36:26-27).  The Spirit of Christ has given us a new heart, along with the ability to live a life of obedience.  Becoming the cause of our faith and the certainty of our salvation (Jn. 6:44; Col. 1:27), the Spirit has given us the power and provision to wage war with the flesh.

 

Jesus followed the Spirit’s leading into the wilderness.  He was led there so that He might accomplish what Adam and Israel and all of mankind could not do–overcome sin and become a sympathetic Savior.  He was tempted in all the ways that we have been tempted and yet He was without sin (Heb. 4:15).  He used the sword of the Spirit (the word of God) to wage war against the temptations of the enemy.  Through the Spirit’s power He remained obedient to the Father and resisted the opportunity to sin.  The same Spirit that led Him to the wilderness also led Him to the Cross.  It was on the Cross that He demonstrated His greatest act of obedience as He humbly sacrificed His own life to save ours in order that He might defeat the power of sin and death for all of eternity.  Upon His being raised from the dead and ascending to the right hand of the throne of God, He gave His Spirit to dwell inside us so that we, too, might experience life!!

Spirit:but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live.”

The Spirit is the agent of life, and our sin-killing commander.  He has two main purposes, to magnify Christ in our hearts and to mortify the flesh in our bodies.

I.  Magnifying Christ in our hearts:  First, the Holy Spirit brings new life to us.  He revives our hearts and restores godly affections when He comes to dwell among us.  Through His grace, we grow in godliness.  And through His power, we follow His leading.  The more we follow His leading, the more clearly we see the image of Christ in our hearts, in the word, in the church, and in the world.  As we behold the image of Christ, we are transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18).

So, how does He magnify Christ in our hearts?

He renews our minds by the washing of the word (Rom. 12:1-2; Eph. 5:26).

He causes us to marvel at the mercy of God toward us (Eph. 2:1-22).

He causes us to meditate on the glory of Christ and the beauty of the Cross.

He causes us to treasure Christ above all other things (Phil. 3:7-11).

Are you looking for Christ in Scripture?  Are you talking about Christ in conversation?  Are you thinking about Christ throughout your day?  Are you reading the word for transformation rather than information?  Is it obvious that Christ is your greatest treasure?  Are you obeying what you hear and read?  Are you praising the Father and the Spirit for the work of Christ that saved you?

II.  Mortifying the flesh of our bodies: Second, the Holy Spirit cultivates within us a hostility toward sin.  By the Spirit’s power, we seek to put to death the deeds of our bodies.  Galatians 5:24 says, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”  Instead of feeding the flesh, we have crucified it.  It no longer lives in dominion over us, but has been dealt a mortal wound.  And as it dies, it desperately fights to regain control.  John Owen used the illustration of thrusting a sword in a serpent.  Once you’ve struck a mortal blow, you must keep after it with the sword until it is dead.  Otherwise, the serpent, though dying, will attack you with ferocious anger and resolve.  The Apostle Paul pictures this well in writing of his struggle with sin: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Rom. 7:15).  Our war with the flesh will take an entire lifetime, but we know that while we may lose some battles, the Spirit will win the war.  Christ became the captain of our salvation who led us out of the captivity of sin, and He will lead us into eternity with God.  The Spirit that led Christ to the Cross, has also led us there.  That is where we find Christ by faith.  Through the Cross he put to death the deeds of our bodies, and one day soon he will even destroy death itself.  Therefore, let us live in light of the Cross, because we have been delivered by it.  We are no longer under the wrath of God, and nothing can separate us from the love of God; not even our struggles with the flesh (Rom. 8:38-39).

Through radical repentance and faith in the finished work of Christ, we are able to overcome the influence of the sin that remains.  The war is not over, but we don’t have to continue wallowing in our sin.  By the Spirit’s power we can declare war against it.  Rampant sin and resistance to the Holy Spirit indicate that we are of the flesh, but that is no longer who we are!!  But those who walk according to the Spirit, demonstrate that they have the Spirit of Christ living within them since saving grace is always accompanied by sanctifying grace.

So, how does the Spirit mortify our flesh?

By our confession of sin and the cleansing that we receive (1 Jn. 1:8-9).

By forsaking our sin and fixing our eyes on Jesus (Heb. 12:1-3).

By remembering our former enslavement and meditating on our freedom in Christ.

Are you confessing your sin to God and to other believers?  Are you humbly asking for forgiveness and cleansing?  Are you feeding the flesh or are you starving it?

Remember what a wretched sinner you were and never forget that you are now sons of God and fellow-heirs with Christ.  The Spirit has won the war, but you must continue wielding the sword.

Conclusion:

Often we feel like the war with sin is like playing a round of the arcade game “Whack-a-mole.”  We strike one head and another pops us; then another, and another.  It seems overwhelming.  But we can rest confidently in the Holy Spirit who is fighting our battles and that through Him we can continue fighting the good fight of faith.  Philippians 1:6 encourages us with these words: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”  The Holy Spirit will continue to sanctify us as He implants grace and uproots sin. Therefore, let us put to death the deeds of the body by relying on the power and provision of the Holy Spirit.  We have been called, we have been justified, we are being sanctified, and one day soon we will be glorified (Rom. 8:30).  So, let us take hope in that great promise to us.

Blessings in Christ,

Gabe and Ian

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Enriched Affections

September 6, 2009

Enriched Affections, the debut album of my youth pastor Josh Huff, is scheduled for an October release. He will be joined by his brothers, Jordan (piano/keyboard) and Jeremy (electric/acoustic guitar), as well as Eric Carter with percussion. This is a long-anticipated project and I’m excited to get my hands on a copy! The album will also be available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon.

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Track list:

1- Jesus, Lover of My Soul
2- Mystery of Mercy
3- Psalm 23
4- Taste and See
5- Do Your Will
6- Justified
7- Psalm 19
8- Gospel Made Mine
9- Lift My Eyes
10- Lullaby for Charis

Further news, including song lyrics, will be posted on Josh’s blog. Also, check out the Facebook group.

The Flesh and the Spirit – Part 1

September 5, 2009

Here’s the transcript of a sermon that my friend Gabe Tribbett recently delivered on a Sunday evening at my home church. Enjoy – I know I did! 

 

Romans 8:13For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

The central point of Romans 8:13 is that a war exists between the flesh and the Spirit.  This war manifests itself in death, either ours or that of our sin.  John Owen, who wrote a treatise on this one verse, summarized it in the following way: “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”  The Apostle Paul further describes the nature of this war in Galatians 5:16-17 where he writes, “Walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For, the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other…The battleground for this war is not only around us, but it is within us.  The flesh intends to kill our souls, while the Spirit intends to save us by killing our sin.

Flesh: So, what does Paul mean by the term flesh?  Well, it seems clear in this passage that he is not merely describing the physical body.  For all men live in a physical body and all will die a physical death, because all have chosen to rebel against the holy God who created them.  Sin is rebellion against God, something that all of us are well-acquainted with if we’re honest enough to admit it.  When Paul says, “If you live according to the flesh, you will die,” he seems to be talking about the sin that remains within us, not simply our physical bodies.  Those who live according to the flesh demonstrate that they are not of the Spirit.  While those in Christ have been given a new nature and are no longer slaves to the flesh, they are not without the propensity to sin and wander from the fold.  A believer’s legal standing before God has been reconciled through Christ’s blood, but the inner nature of the believer is being gradually transformed as the Spirit works to conform us to the image of Christ.  They may suffer from the influence of the flesh, but they are no longer ruled by its passions and desires.

I believe that Paul is using the term flesh to describe the dominion, desire, and destruction of sin.  Certainly these three characteristics are not exhaustive descriptions of the flesh, but they will suffice for our current meditation.

I. Dominion:  In the Garden of Eden, God gave mankind dominion over creation (Gen. 1:36-31).  Man and woman were given the charge to cultivate and keep the garden.  But when Adam sinned, he compromised his faithful stewardship of God’s kingdom.  Instead of exerting dominion over creation, he allowed sin to exert dominion over him.  In that moment the captain of creation became the captive of the Enemy.  He gave up his freedom to serve the Creator, and instead was forced to serve the flesh.  And all of creation was subjected to the same frustration.  Sadly, this horrible condition has plagued every fallen human-being ever since the Garden.  Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  That includes us.

Although sin entered the world through Adam, it has taken up residence in our hearts so that it might use us to carry out its destructive demands.  Like an unchecked cancer, it has spread to infect every organ of our bodies, so that we might live according to the desires of the flesh.

poisonII. Desire: Through Adam we were born into sin, and through the evil desires of our flesh we have continued to sin.  Like Cain who murdered his brother, sin has been crouching at our door and it desires to have us.  It is subtle and seductive.  It often disguises itself as a kind friend ready to serve our most pressing need, but the knife is hiding behind its back.  Deceived by its attraction, we drop our defenses and welcome it into our home.  It promises immediate pleasure without any consequences, and its appeal seems impossible to refuse.  Yet, it is a cruel master who makes demands on all who accept its offer.  Imagine that you are thirsty and a close friend of yours offers you a glass to quench your thirst.  Eager to be satisfied you guzzle down every last drop only to find out that your supposed friend just served you a glass of poison.  What satisfied your immediate thirst will eventually begin to kill you.

That’s what sin does to all who drink its poison.  It targets our thirst through idolatry and self-indulgence.  By feeding our desire, it tricks us into thinking that it has our best interest in mind.  And, we think we are in control; yet, all the while we are slaves waiting to be slaughtered.  Sin is devastating, and the more we drink of its poison the more destined for death we become.

III. Destruction: The flesh intends to destroy us.  The primary reason is because we were created in the image of God.  The flesh is hostile to God and hates anything that was made to reflect Him.  Its desire is to distort, then destroy, any evidence of God within us.  What is worse, God violently opposes the flesh along with all who serve it.  For such enemies, He has reserved nothing short of His terrible wrath.  Those who serve the flesh will die physically, spiritually, and eternally.  They will experience the destruction reserved for all who oppose God.

Like fire, the flesh ruins everything it touches.  It starts off with a small desire that grows into sin and when full-grown it brings forth death (James 1:15).  Imagine a foolish man who starts a fire in his own home.  Enjoying its warmth, he gradually adds more fuel to it when he ought to be adding water.  Eventually it will destroy the house and everything in it.  Those who are intoxicated by the warmth of sin will be destroyed by its flames; as they live according to the flesh, so they will die.  They will die physically, spiritually, and eternally.  Therefore, let us be warned that those who live for themselves will be devoted to the destruction that they deserve.  However, those who take refuge in the Cross of Christ will find the mercy and love of God to deliver them from the horrific consequences of their sin.

Our Hope: Praise God, that is what we were…  We were dominated by the flesh, we were suffering under the desires of the flesh, and we were destined to be destroyed by the flesh and with the flesh.  But that is no longer who we are… Those of us who are in Christ have been saved from the power of the flesh.  We have been given new life and the privilege of being transformed into the image of Christ.  In the next post, we will consider the second half of this verse: “but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”  We will look at the work of Christ who defeated the power of sin and won the war that we could never win.  Then, we will reflect on how the Spirit wages war against the flesh, and empowers us to enjoy eternal life.

Blessings in Christ,

Gabe and Ian

More on the New Perspective

July 24, 2009

As a follow-up to my recent link to Christianity Today’s article “The Justification Debate: A Primer” and in response to a helpful comment left on my post, I have to agree that Paul’s use of the phrase “works of the Law” must be understood in a way that embraces the Law in its entirety, rather than signifying “identity markers” that advocates of the New Perspective would claim. Galatians 3:10 seems to demand this “Old Perspective” interpretation when an unequivocal link is clearly drawn in Paul’s mind between “the works of the Law” and “all things written in the Book of the Law.” 

“For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.'”

Much more information on the New Perspective is available online. While researching this topic over the week I came across two fantastic resources in defense of the Old Perspective. The first is a transcription of a seminar given by Phil Johnson in 2004, and the other is an article from the August 2007 publication of Christianity Today.

Happy reading!

The Justification Debate

July 15, 2009

gviewHere’s the link to an interesting article published in Christianity Today’s June 2009 issue – a side-by-side comparison of the views held on justification by prominent theologians John Piper and N. T. Wright. Enjoy!

Seeking God

July 15, 2009

From Chapter 1, Section 1 of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion:

 

…no man can survey himself without forthwith turning his thoughts towards the God in whom he lives and moves; because it is perfectly obvious, that the endowments which we possess cannot possibly be from ourselves; nay, that our very being is nothing else than subsistence in God alone. In the second place, those blessings which unceasingly distil to us from heaven, are like streams conducting us to the fountain. Here, again, the infinitude of good which resides in God becomes more apparent from our poverty. … Thus, our feeling of ignorance, vanity, want, weakness, in short, depravity and corruption, reminds us that in the Lord, and none but He, dwell the true light of wisdom, solid virtue, exuberant goodness. We are accordingly urged by our own evil things to consider the good things of God; and, indeed, we cannot aspire to Him in earnest until we have begun to be displeased with ourselves. … Every person, therefore, on coming to the knowledge of himself, is not only urged to seek God, but is also led as by the hand to find Him.

Back in the Game

July 14, 2009

After a long leave of absence, I’ve finally decided to throw my hat back into the blogging ring. For a few weeks I wasn’t sure whether I intended to continue throwing my thoughts out into cyberspace. For a few days I debated stepping away from the written word altogether. The reasons for these deliberations (and my decision to return to the world of writing) are many, and to uncover all of them would be to reveal a great deal of my own heart. But God has taught me much through these past months, and I seek to lift His name high by sharing these lessons with all who will read these words.

When I began blogging in the fall of 2008, I had high and noble visions for my humble Google-hosted site. I hoped that the novelty of a young American guy with thoughts worth reading – even by adult standards – would attract attention, and that the attention would allow me to reach an ever-broadening audience, and that ultimately my blog, Rebelution-style, would become the springboard to launch Ian Smith into a sort of notoriety. As time went on, my skill increased; as my skill increased, awareness did indeed spread. Before very long my writing had begun to attract a worldwide audience – nothing spectacular, but one undeniably larger than would be found on your typical teen-hosted blog. Encouraged by this small success, I kept writing. And writing. And writing.

But something in my own life began to pull me away from my letter-punching revelry. That something was a sort of disconnect – a dichotomy – between the well-worded 12-point font Ian Smith of Microsoft Word and the internet and the living, breathing Ian Smith who leads the life of a high-school sophomore in suburban Chicago. There was a difference – in my mind a yawning gulf – between the profound young theologian others saw in me and the rather unextraordinary young man I knew myself to be. At first I wasn’t much bothered by this, at least not enough to affect either aspect of my life and experience. Over time, though, I became increasingly dissatisfied with the intensely introspective Ian; the Ian who speaks quietly and with difficulty, who shuns the phone, dislikes crowds, and tends to avoid conversation in general. And rightly so. But rather than striving to overcome my natural discomfort in most social situations, I turned to the only means I had for expressing myself accurately, eloquently, and comfortably.

Pride became a chief motivator in my life as I struggled with feelings of self-doubt, incompetence, and even hypocrisy. I tried my hardest to publish top-notch posts, churn out only the best letters and essays, and as a rule leave the longest and most profound comments in discussions held online. For a matter of months, my sole purpose in writing was to define myself before the world; to ensure that the person I wanted more than anything to be was the only person others saw in me.

In their book Do Hard Things, Alex and Brett Harris describe my intentions exactly: “All of us have the tendency to emphasize our strong points and then use them as an excuse to ignore the weaker points … We would all like to pick just the strongest areas of our lives and say, ‘This is me. Ignore everything else. This is who I am.’ But … we don’t have that luxury.”

 Their reasoning? Later in the chapter, the Harris twins go on to explain that if we seek to define ourselves only by our abilities, we never grow. We’re hindered by our own fear of failure, remaining faded shadows of a greater possibility. But that thought never occured to me at the time. God had much more to bring me through in the way of personal development. 

Slowly, quietly, a small, self-doubting fear crept into my heart. A selfish fear. A self-centered fear. But that fear grew until it gnawed at the back of my mind; grew out of all proportion until it became a constant thought, a persistent concern, a nagging worry. That was the fear of disappointing with my real nature those I sought to impress with my carefully constructed self-image. I wished I could manifest the image I painted of myself: intellectual, spiritual, wordy, wise. More than anything, I feared disillusioning those in my life who saw in me what I either could not or would not. In short, I devoted to man that fear I should have reserved to God alone. And the same pride began to heave the pendulum to an opposite extreme. Skeptical about the ethicality of using spiritual discussion to promote my own self-image, I began to reconsider the wisdom of most of my writing venues. Feeling as if by my writing I was weaving the fabric of a lie, for a time I stopped altogether. Until now.

Lastnight, my dad approached me wondering why I’ve neglected doing what he knows I love. During the course of our discussion I explained these things to him and asked for his advice. What I took away from that conversation were some of the most important lessons I’ve learned recently, and are ultimately the reason I’ve decided stick with blogging. I know I’ve been wordy in this post, so the rest of this post will be devoted to summing  up these lessons in as few words as possible.

We are given specific gifts and abilities by God to be stewards of them. Mine is writing. I am responsible before God to use and develop and strengthen this tool; to build upon it, to use it for good. To use it for His glory. Christ illustrates this expectation in Matthew 25 through his parable of the Talents (look it up if you can). With the servant who had been given five Talents and returned with five Talents more the Master is satisfied: “You have been faithful over little, I will set you over much.” But with the one who buried his Talents and returned with no gain the Master is displeased: “You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.” 

If I choose to neglect using and strengthening my natural gifts with any motive, especially one so self-serving as pride, I am sinning against the One who entrusted those gifts to me. Being unable to express myself well in both writing and in person should never be an excuse for me to forgo the one – to drop to my personal lowest common denominator – all in a roundabout way for the sake of human opinion.

I would like to encourage you: no matter who you are, or where you are in life, or how talented you consider yourself to be, God has uniquely gifted you to serve Him. Your passion for Christ will never supercede your capacity to act on it. It is for you to determine with what tools He has blessed you, and then to use those tools for the rest of your life to the best of your ability.

 

“You are not what you think you are; but what you think, you are.”
– Dr. Lloyd M. Perry